None of the 16 national managers was ever likely to go beyond "it's difficult, but we're satisfied" after yesterday's draw for the opening stage of Euro '96, but the revised odds for next year's tournament provide a more telling assessment.
The big winners, it seems, are the Netherlands, the new 9-2 favourites (from 6-1) with Ladbrokes. As long as 16-1 before last Wednesday's play- off with the Republic of Ireland, the Dutch have been heavily backed ever since and appear solid market leaders. Their group rivals England, by contrast, are 7-1 from 11-2. Spain, though favourites for Group B, are 7-1 from 6-1, while the only other significant move involves Croatia, 12-1 from 16-1.
Two points are worth making. First, since Germany and Italy are both in Group C, if both qualify they will occupy different halves of the second- phase draw and thus cannot play each other again before the final.
Second, before placing a bet on the outright winner, be sure to make a rough calculation of the team's "true" odds. In order to lift the trophy, a side must play six matches and win at least four. For example, a team might be 4-6 to win each of three matches in a row (from the quarters up to and including the final). Multiplying those odds shows they would need to be about 9-2 before the first of those matches to represent any sort of value.
With five sides quoted at or around that price with the problem of qualifying from their group still to come, the bookmakers are clearly taking few chances. The tournament has such strength in depth, meanwhile, that any number of teams could spring a surprise, and outright bets are best saved for the start of the second phase.
EURO '96 (Ladbrokes): 9-2 Netherlands, 5-1 Italy, Germany, 7-1 England, Spain, 10-1 France, Portugal, 12-1 Croatia, 16-1 Bulgaria, Romania, 20- 1 Russia, 25-1 Denmark, 50-1 Switzerland, Scotland, Turkey, 80-1 Czech Republic. Group Betting (Hills): Group A: 10-11 Netherlands, 13-8 England, 9-1 Scotland, Switzerland. Group B: 7-4 Spain, 11-4 France, 3-1 Romania, 100-30 Bulgaria. Group C: 5-4 Germany, 11-8 Italy, 9-2 Russia, 14-1 Czech Republic. Group D: 6-4 Portugal, 13-8 Croatia, 3-1 Denmark, 11-1 Turkey.
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